From Senator Rich Taylor

Written by Theresa Rose on March 13, 2015

BIPARTISAN SENATE SUPPORTS ACCESS TO MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

The state of Iowa needs to do more — not less — to ensure that all Iowans have access to mental health services.

Iowa law currently requires the state to maintain and operate four mental health institutes (MHIs) in Cherokee, Clarinda, Independence and Mount Pleasant. The facilities are located in four regions so that Iowans in need of acute mental health services don’t have to travel hours for help and family and friends are better able to support their loved ones.

The Legislature appropriated sufficient funds to operate all four facilities during this current fiscal year and Governor Branstad approved the appropriations. That means the Department of Human Services (DHS) must administer the facilities to the best of its ability and in good faith.

The Governor’s unilateral decision to close the MHIs in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant undermines the state’s efforts to provide Iowans with critical services. Before the Legislature has even had a chance to weigh in on this issue, layoff notices have been sent to workers at Mount Pleasant and both facilities have stopped accepting new patients.

The Senate approved two bipartisan bills to address this situation. The Senate passed SF 333, which requires the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) to admit eligible Iowans to the MHIs through the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

The Senate also approved SF 402, which sets up a process for DHS to develop and implement crucial community based mental health services. Services outlined in the plan and approved by the Legislature must be in place before we consider closing the MHIs. The plan must include input from stakeholders and experts, ensure that transitional services are offered without hurting quality of care, ensure local access to highly trained community and institutionally based care providers and identify stable funding for new services.

The Senate is also expected to approve several other bills to strengthen our mental health system statewide:

• SF 274 makes changes to the medical residency grant program to ensure efficient use of state funding to expand medical training residencies in Iowa, including psychiatry residencies. Doctors trained in Iowa are more likely to stay here when their training is complete.

• SF 386 establishes a study committee to look at the feasibility of establishing facilities to provide long-term care and treatment for those who are aggressive or in need of psychiatric services designed specifically for older Iowans.

• SF 401 allows subacute mental health facilities to accept involuntary, court ordered placements for mental health care. The cap on the number of publicly funded subacute beds statewide is raised from 50 to 75. Subacute mental health facilities provide care to those who need inpatient mental health treatment but not hospitalization.

• SF 440 allows voluntary and involuntary commitment for mental health or substance abuse treatment in neighboring states. Surrounding states must pass similar legislation before an Iowan can be placed in those states. To date, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin have enacted similar statutes.

• SF 454 directs DHS, in consultation with the departments of Public Health and Education, to develop a strategic plan for a children’s mental health and wellbeing system in Iowa.

• SF 463 ensures consistency across Iowa laws given Iowa’s redesigned mental health and disability services.

UPCOMING PUBLIC FORUMS

• Friday, March 20, 12 noon: Fort Madison at the Palm’s Supper Club

• Saturday, March 21, 8:30 a.m.: Fairfield at the Best Western Hotel

• Saturday, March 21, 10 a.m.: Washington Economic Development Legislative Forum at the Washington County Courthouse

• Friday, March 27, 12 noon: Keokuk at the Hawkeye Steak House

• Saturday, March 28, 8:30 a.m.: Mount Pleasant at the IWC Library